Aquarius Juice is a disturbing neo-narrative collaboration with choreographers and dancers Priscilla Marrero and Carlota Pradera and musician Nicole Martinez. Debuted during Miami Light Project’s Here & Now 2012, the performance exemplified MLP’s commitment to programming a wide spectrum of works that challenge and push the beveled edge of what contemporary dance/performance art is and can be.
Guttural, symbiotic, and sinisterly humorous, Aquarius Juice cannot be tamed or classified. It is a fusion of primal movements and sound — live electronica, saxophone, clarinet, grunts, and shrieks layered over pre-recorded dialogue — that explores what it means and, most importantly, feels like to survive in a beauty-driven world. A world that has a powerful, almost hypnotizing language of its own.
Although the performance seemed incoherent and chaotic, that, for me, was the point. We live in an incoherent world that honors beauty over brains, six-inch heels over a PhD. Just spend an hour watching television, and you’ll be bombarded with commercials on how to look like a beauty queen or how to look beautiful while you take online courses from the University of the Internet.
Barefoot and costumed in flesh-toned body suits, Marrero and Pradera creeped and crawled zombie-like across the Light Box stage around a white triangular sculptural element designed by Glexis Novoa. A giant broken heel? Perhaps.
Martinez, anchored near the southwest corner of the space, intuitively processed sounds that mirrored the dancers’ movements. “What’s important to me is that the music not do too much of the job of telling the audience what the emotional content of the performance should be,” said Martinez. “The dance should do that job or both in unison. The choice to use the sax was made by the choreographers to show the masculine and feminine ideals of perfection.” The performance achieved this goal.
The interaction/connection between composer and dancers was essential to the co-creation of the performance. There was constant feedback among the performers. This was apparent, especially when Martinez moved away from her equipment, picked up the sax and played-moved-breathed in unison with the dancers on the floor. Martinez has a background in dance and this empowered her to lock in on the dancers’ movements. “My eyes rarely left the dancers as I played,” Martinez said. “Understanding dance helps me understand and identify what their doing. Understanding the language of dance gave me an intuitive understanding of what the music should be doing.”
The trio successfully conspired against the beauty principle; but they also challenged our preconceived notion of dance. At times, the dancers’ movements were reminiscent of what a robotic and deranged Barbie doll would move like if she could breathe life through her plastic lungs. At other times, Marrero’s and Pradera’s hyper-extended necks, exaggerated movements, arched backs, hunched backs, and tortured facial expressions reminded me of a possessed, upright baby chicken and the creepy, chicken-breasted Gollum from The Lord of the Rings.
But what really impressed me about Aquarius Juice is Marrero and Pradera’s wicked sense of humor. Toward the end of the performance, Pradera struggled to exhume a cache of award medals from a brown box. Burdened and weighed down by her booty, she dragged the medals across the stage, garbled and gargled unintelligibly and eased the audience to release, i.e. laugh, at the absurd comedy unfolding in front of them.
In the end, Marrero was awarded a medal, for her humane struggle to survive the almost human pageant. That wasn’t Marrero’s only reward. “No matter the feedback, positive or negative, I get something out of the audience reaction,” Marrero said. “Input helps. That in itself is rewarding. Natural reaction is important. The laughs, the silence, the nervousness.”
After seeing one of the rough drafts of Aquarius Juice, Marrero’s grandma shaved her hair off. This, of course, was a natural reaction to the underlying theme of the piece. Tired of coloring her hair, tired of conforming, and tired of being a slave, for no apparent reason, to the beauty ideal, grandma did what made her feel beautiful — and liberated her hair from the grips of Clairol.
Sometimes we have to face the ugly to see all the beauty in the mirror. Sometimes we have to smash the mirror and reconstruct a new image of ourselves. Sometimes we have to be jerked out of our comfort zone to find our true place in this human circus. And sometimes we just have head over to the Light Box at the Goldman Warehouse to experience, first hand, the transformative power of the performing arts. Here & Now.
Here & Now: 2012, was performed at The Light Box at Goldman Warehouse, 404 NW 26 Street, Miami.
This article first appeared in the Miami Sun Post